What Is Cynicism?

What Is Cynicism?

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Cynics, the performance artists of philosophy. Eating live octopus with fresh lupins, performing intimate acts in public places and shouting at passers by from inside a barrel is behaviour not normally associated with philosophy. But the Cynics were different. They were determined to expose the meaninglessness of civilised life by action as well as by word. They slept rough, ate simply and gave their lectures in the market place. Perhaps surprisingly, their ideas and attitudes were immensely popular in the ancient world. But how coherent was cynicism as a philosophy? What was its influence on literature and politics and is there any truth to the contention that Jesus himself was influenced by the Cynics?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Cynicism

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Cynicism is actually not at all cynical in the modern sense of the word. It bears no real resemblance to that attitude of negativity and jaded scornfulness that sees the worst of intentions behind the apparent good motives of others.

True cynicism is not a debasement of others but a debasement of oneself — and in that purposeful self-debasement, a protest against corruption, luxury and insincerity. Diogenes, the story goes, was called a “downright dog,” and this so pleased him that the figure of a dog was carved in stone to mark his final resting place. From that epithet, kunikos (“dog-like”), cynicism was born...

Continue reading Simon Critchley's article: Cynicism We Can Believe In

Further Reading

Cynicism originates in the philosophical schools of ancient Greece that claim a Socratic lineage. To call the Cynics a “school” though, immediately raises a difficulty for so unconventional and anti-theoretical a group. Their primary interests are ethical, but they conceive of ethics more as a way of living than as a doctrine in need of explication. As such askēsis—a Greek word meaning a kind of training of the self or practice—is fundamental. The Cynics, as well as the Stoics who followed them, characterize the Cynic way of life as a “shortcut to virtue” (see Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 6, Chapter 104 and Book 7, Chapter 122). Though they often suggest that they have discovered the quickest, and perhaps surest, path to the virtuous life, they recognize the difficulty of this route...

Continue reading the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Cynics by Julie Piering

Bonus Webcomic

Diogenes and Plato - Existential Comics

Related Topics

If you’re interested in Cynicism, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

Ancient Greece | Authenticity | The History of Philosophy | Virtue

Become a lifelong learner. Sign up via email to get the best videos, articles and podcasts on a new topic each day. Or you can follow on Twitter or Facebook.

Posted by in Ideas, 0 comments